‘We envy you,’ Catalans tell Kurds after independence votes

By Adam Lucente

BARCELONA, Spain – People in the autonomous region of Catalonia went to the polls on Sunday to vote in a referendum on their independence from Spain. But they were met with heavy police repression that aimed to stop the polling stations at schools from holding the vote, as the Spanish government considers the vote illegal. 

Police hit demonstrators in the streets, pushed back large crowds, and physically dragged would-be voters from polling stations, as can be seen in videos sent to Rudaw. 

“The atmosphere was quiet and full of hope until [police] showed up to crack down on the referendum,” Aleix Oriol, an independence supporter in the regional capital of Barcelona, told Rudaw. “It was a disgraceful day for Spain and the EU.”

Sunday’s chaotic referendum in Catalonia, though very different, is drawing comparisons to the one on September 25 in Kurdistan. 

Catalan and Spanish media have covered the Kurdish independence referendum considerably. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s vote against supporting Kurdish independence in 2014 in parliament made a splash in the country for its apparent hypocrisy. In a September interview with Spanish television station laSexta, Puigdemont was grilled by presenter Jordi Évole over the vote, and said he did not remember it, but that he supported the rights of the Kurdish people to hold the referendum on September 25. 

Following the referendum, Puigdemont congratulated Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani.

In the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia, Tomás Alcoverro penned an article entitled “Kirkuk, Jerusalem of the Kurds” for his column on September 25. “Catalonia and Kurdistan begin with the same letter,” former president of Iraq Jalal Talabani said to Alcoverro after an interview, according to the article. 

A group called KurdisCat is at the center of the small yet present links between the two autonomous regions. Founded in 2013 to establish solidarity between Kurdistan and Catalonia, they publish articles on their website and social media to spread awareness of the Kurdish issue, according to spokesman Jordi Vàzquez. The group focuses on all Kurdish regions in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. 

“They’re two very different nations divided in diverse states, each at the extremes of the Mediterranean, but with many points in common,” Vàzquez told Rudaw. “They have a love for their language, their traditions, liberty and the right to decide their future in a democratic way. And both have suffered under dictators.”

There are substantial differences between the two referendums at the same time. In Kurdistan, 92.73% voted for independence with a high turnout of 72 percent, and most major parties supported holding the referendum. In Catalonia, 90.09% voted for independence, according to Catalan government statistics. Most votes were counted despite police efforts. However, turnout was only 42% in Catalonia, and opponents were expected to boycott the vote, indicating a difference in popular support between Kurdistan and Catalonia. 

The actions of police differed in the two countries as well. On Twitter, some noted that the Kurdistan independence referendum passed peacefully, whereas in Barcelona, police went after people seeking to vote. 

“We have envy of you [Kurdistan],” said Pep, another Catalan independence supporter in Barcelona, to Rudaw. “You voted without repression from your government.”

Efforts to declare independence from Spain have ramped up in Catalonia since 2014, spurred by economic issues and Catalonia’s distinct language and national identity. “Catalans are sick and tired of being pushed around by a state which only seems to care about getting our money and never giving anything in return,” said Oriol.

The Spanish government considers Sunday’s referendum illegal and sent national police and Guardia Civil forces into the region to prevent the voting from taking place. Following Sunday’s event, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy went on TV to reiterate that the referendum in Catalonia was illegal, possibly setting the country up for more political battles.

The violence from police against demonstrators and voters was condemned by many on Sunday, including European politicians, such as British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the FC Barcelona football club. Over 800 people were injured on Sunday, according to the regional government. 

The Kurdistan Regional Government is currently battling a halt on international flights declared by the government in Baghdad, and international criticism of its referendum, not to mention disagreements over its borders and oil revenues with Iraq. 
The independence struggles in Kurdistan and Catalonia aren’t working in unison and remain focused on their separate domestic situations. That hasn’t stopped comparisons between them in international media, however. Regardless of what happens in Kurdistan and Catalonia in the days, weeks, and months to come, some nationalists in both countries will be watching the other across the sea. 

“A nationalism not in solidarity with other nations is just ego,” said Vàzquez. “Every people has the right to decide its own future.”

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‘We envy you,’ Catalans tell Kurds after independence votes ‘We envy you,’ Catalans tell Kurds after independence votes Reviewed by Unknown on 14:09:00 Rating: 5

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